Fellow 1998-99

Hiroko Yamashita-Butler

East Asian Languages & Cultures

A Study of the Processing of Japanese

Professor Yamashita-Butler joined the UIUC faculty in 1994, after obtaining her Ph.D. in East Asian languages and literatures from Ohio State University. During her Center appointment, she will continue to investigate how people process or comprehend their native languages, contrasting the relatively underinvestigated Japanese language with the very well investigated English language. In English the verb, which appears immediately following the subject, provides critical information to the reader/listener in hypothesizing the resulting sentence structure. In Japanese the verb information does not become available until the end of a sentence. Yamashita-Butler’s study will be one of the first to investigate what kinds of information other than the verb are provided by the language structure of Japanese. More specifically, the project will explore how information from case-marking particles attached to a noun is used. She will also examine whether people make a hypothesis about thematic roles, that is, how each noun phrase in a sentence is related to other nouns in the same clause, before the verb information becomes available. The study will reveal the precise mechanism of processing verb-final language. Results of the study will be contrasted to those in English to provide the basis for a preliminary proposal describing universal and language-specific aspects of human language processing, with potential application to machine translation and acquisition of Japanese as a foreign language.